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Using Online Reviews to Pick a Property Management Company

Todd Ortscheid - Friday, May 4, 2018

Hi, Todd Ortscheid here with GTL Real Estate talking this week about online reviews and how you can best use those to help find a property management company to manage your rental property.

Online reviews, obviously, have gotten pretty popular. Google and Yelp are probably the biggest providers of those but there's also Yellow Pages, Better Business Bureau, and Facebook. There's just a lot of places where you can leave and find online reviews. It's probably something you've become pretty familiar with as you search Google or Bing, just seeing those ratings there by default, because they're on your search listings.

Obviously, these play some part at least in your selection of a management company. So there's a few key things to keep in mind about property management companies that are a bit different than other businesses when you're looking at those ratings. If you're looking for a restaurant or a hotel or some place like that, it's pretty clear that everybody who's rating that restaurant is probably an actual customer of that restaurant, for example. There's not any sort of conflicting interest there.

With a property management company though, it's a lot different because there's two parties for every property that we manage. There's the owner of that property who's our client, that's the person that we actually represent and whose interest we are most concerned with. And then there's the tenant, and the problem with that is that in some cases, the interest of the tenant are directly opposed to the interest of the landlord.

For example, if that tenant doesn't pay their rent on time and they have to be evicted, well, what is that tenant going to do? They're probably going to log on to Google, post a really nasty review of us saying how horrible we are because we dared to tell them that they had to pay their rent or leave if they didn't so they'll leave this horrible one star review and that obviously is gonna weigh down our average.

Any management company that's doing their job is going to have those sorts of reviews. And that's a bit different than a restaurant where everybody who's leaving reviews is their actual customers, it's the people that they're supposed to be working to make happy. That's not always the case with a property management company because we have those competing interests in some cases. Because of that, you have to weigh the reviews a little bit differently. What you're looking for is kind of a sweet spot in those reviews. You wanna make sure you don't have either really low ratings or really high ratings because those could indicate two different problems.

Obviously on the really low side, if somebody's got 2.2, two stars, one star, obviously that's probably indicative of a company that's not making either their tenants or their owner clients happy. Now, that's not necessarily true. There could be circumstances where a property management company is just not asking any of their clients to leave reviews and if that's the case, they're probably not getting very many reviews even if they have a bunch of very happy clients, most people don't go on and leave reviews unless you ask them to do so. They could just have a situation where that's the case.

That's pretty rare nowadays. Most companies are actively asking their clients for reviews so you don't see too much of that. That used to be more common but not so much anymore. So if you see those really low ratings, that's probably an indication of a management company you don't wanna do business with.

On the other hand, there's another red flag raised if there's unrealistically high ratings. So if you see a management company that has 4.5, 4.8, 5.0 stars, and it's not a new management company with just a couple of reviews, then that might be an indication that that company is trying to play both sides. In other words, they're trying to keep the tenant happy even if that's not necessarily in the landlord's best interest and a lot of their clients don't realize that that's what they're doing and they're missing out because of it.

For example, something I see a whole lot on this is management companies waving late fees just because they don't want tenants to post bad reviews of them online for charging those tenants late fees. Now, we share the late fees with our clients so when we charge a tenant a late fee, you're getting half of that money. That's an important thing because if the tenant's paying late and you're missing out paying your mortgage on time, you need that late fee to help you pay the late for your mortgage. It's also just compensation because you deserve your rent on time. If the tenant's not going to pay it on time, you should get something for that.

If a a management company is waving that just so they don't get bad reviews from tenants, that's hurting you and that's just one example. A far more serious example would be a management company who doesn't charge a tenant for damage when they move out of the property. And that can cost you thousands of dollars. But I do hear management company owners sometimes saying, "Well, I'm gonna consider that normal wear and tear because we don't really want that tenant to get too angry, they were threatening to leave bad reviews or go to the Better Business Bureau. We don't really want to do that so we'll go a little bit easy on them" That's a bad thing and it's not only just a bad business decision, it's really a violation of that management company's fiduciary responsibility to you, which is a legal obligation. They represent you, the property owner. They should be taking care of your interest.

If there's a management company you see that has those unrealistically high ratings, that's, I would say, a warning sign. And not always, there could be some management companies who are just managing only very high end properties. And in that case, it's rare to run into a tenant in that range of property who's paying rent late, damaging property. If someone's renting a $4,000 a month unit, they're probably a pretty responsible person who's not going to be doing damage or paying their rent late. So those management companies who appeal to that niche market, they're dealing with a bit of a different situation. But for other companies who are managing standard three bedroom, two bath, typical rental properties, if they're not getting some bad review from tenants here and there, in my opinion, they're not doing their job. They're not representing their clients. So that's something to keep in mind.

You see a management company has three and half, four, 4.2 stars, that's probably the sweet spot you want to look for. That's a management company who's getting those bad tenant reviews when they're doing their job but they're also getting good reviews from their clients. And that's the important thing. So that's the last thing you can do is actually look at those reviews and see who is leaving the bad reviews on a management company's profile. Is it tenants or is it owners? And you can look through and actually read those. If you see a bunch of owners leaving bad reviews, that's a big warning sign. You don't want to see that. But if you see a bunch of tenants saying, "This management company evicted me," or "They charged me a late fee," or "They wouldn't let me have my application fee back when I had a 500 credit score." That's a good indication, that's something that you do want to see a management company doing. If you see those kind of bad reviews, then that lets you know that management company is doing their job and representing your interest.

Keep that in mind when looking for a management company. Obviously, if you're one of our happy clients, please go on to Google or Yelp and leave us a positive review. If there's any reason you can't leave us a positive review, then please let me know and we'll try to work out whatever that issue is. But if you have any questions about how any of this works, what you should look for on reviews, or anything else, you can send me an email at support@gtlrealestate.com. Have a good weekend.

Upcoming Improvements - Part 2

Todd Ortscheid - Sunday, March 25, 2018

In this video, Todd Ortscheid talks about more upcoming improvements you can expect from #GTLRealEstate.

Among those improvements include educational video blogs and virtual tours, which are basically slideshows of your properties with a voice-over description that talks about the benefits of renting your property. It also comes with an introduction that talks about why tenants should rent from us. These virtual tours have been proven to help rent out properties faster, as the description also includes keywords that will help tenants find your properties faster online. They also give us an edge, especially with millennial renters who want to rent with companies that keep up with the latest in technology.

We will also be doing video inspections of your properties. Rather than just taking pictures, we will be recording high-definition videos that will be used to document move-ins and move-outs. These will definitely help with challenges to the security deposits, as videos are irrefutable proof and will most likely stop tenants from challenging any charges. They will definitely lessen any legal costs you might have over disputes and hold tenants accountable for the condition they leave your properties in.

Please watch out for more videos about our upcoming improvements. If you have further questions about our excellent property management services or want to see our available #AtlantaHomesforRent or our #DaytonaBeachHomesforRent, please don't hesitate to call us.

Upcoming Improvements - Part 1

Todd Ortscheid - Sunday, March 18, 2018

In this video, Todd Ortscheid of #GTLRealEstate, talks about the improvements you can expect this year, as well the new things that are coming soon.

These new changes include the new rent money system, which has been emailed to all our clients. This new cash payment system will get us the funds in two business days, as soon as the tenant has paid the rent at any accredited cash payment location. From there, you should get the funds within 2-3 business days. The new system is faster than the old one and this should be a big improvement.

We will also be having new owner portals on our website. It will now be easier to read statements and generate custom reports for certain time frames you are looking for. These will be coming out soon with completely new formats.

Recent Changes

Todd Ortscheid - Thursday, March 8, 2018

In his first video blog ever, Todd Ortscheid of GTL Real Estate talks about the changes that have happened to the company over the past 9-12 months. This video is the first of a series that aims to update our clients and to improve the products we offer them.

First up, we are now known by a new name and that's because we now serve two markets--Atlanta and Florida. For those of you who have properties in Orlando and Daytona Beach in Florida, we can now just as easily help you as we help our clients in the entire Atlanta metro area. Our new name reflects our bigger market reach.

In addition, we have also made it easier for our tenants to reach us in case of emergencies, via our 24/7/365 repair hotline. Tenants have two options on how to submit repair issues they may have--they can either go online and fill out a form or they can call our main office line at any time by pressing a button and getting connected to the call center. In case of non-emergencies, the call center will dispatch someone for the next business day.

In line with repairs, we also have also switched to a new repair tracking software. The new software easily tracks all the necessary information, such as when was the repair scheduled, what date were the repairmen coming out to the property, or how old the work order is. It helps us stay on top of these repairs, to make sure they all get done. It also helps us follow up on the vendors who aren't doing their jobs so that we can find new vendors if they prove to be lacking.

In the past we've done only exterior inspections of the properties, but since owners didn't feel that they got the most out of it, we have decided to do scheduled interior inspections instead. We go into a property three months before the tenant's lease is up, to make sure that the property is in good condition. This helps us avoid legal liabilities in case the tenants decide to challenge us for something we charge them for. You also have the option to do inspections twice a year if you wish, just let us know so we can schedule it.

Lastly, we have switched to a new renting system called Rently. This helps us track the number of phone calls, emails and showings we get for your property. It also sends out an automated questionnaire for the tenants who've just seen your property and gets their feedback. This feedback is useful because this is how we determine how to sell or rent your properties faster. Rentals are going great in our markets, with our listings getting rented within two weeks. Tracking the trends with Rently helps us especially when things start to slow down.

We'll update you on all the new products we have in the works and things that we are going to be adding on to further improve the quality of service we provide. Thanks for watching!

How quickly should I return a security deposit?

Todd Ortscheid - Tuesday, September 12, 2017
It's one of the first questions a tenant asks when their lease is getting close to terminating: "how quickly can you get my security deposit to me?" Far too many tenants are irresponsible with their finances, so they don't plan ahead for paying their next landlord a deposit or rent, and they want the deposit you're holding immediately. Some even ask for it before they move out!

For the latter request, the answer is simply a firm "no!" NEVER return the deposit or even give an indication that the tenant will get their deposit back until after they've completely vacated, handed over the keys, and you've inspected the property for damage.

But what about if the tenant just wants the deposit quickly? Should you agree to that? For several reasons, we advise against it. The law in both states where we operate allows a landlord up to 30 days to return a security deposit. While we don't recommend using all of that time, we do recommend not rushing it. We generally tell tenants that we usually get their deposit processed (not refunded, as we'll get to in a moment) within a week or two, but that it could possibly take up to 30 days. This puts the tenant in the right frame of mind that they shouldn't be hassling us a few days after moving out.

So why should you not rush it to make the tenant happy? Let's remember the purpose of the security deposit. The deposit is there to cover any damage to the property or any amounts that the tenant still owes you on move-out. We see landlords frequently forget items when they're actually conducting the move-out inspection (such as re-keying, carpet cleaning, etc.), and then they remember a day or two later. If they've already given the tenant the deposit back, too late! That tenant isn't going to give you money then, no matter how much you're owed it. You want to take your time and make sure you thoroughly review the condition of the property, the move-in inspection, and the terms of the lease. You don't want to miss anything.

Also, you simply have a life of your own to live, and you don't want to commit to a quick turnaround on the deposit. If you promise that up front, and then life gets in the way and you need a few more days, the tenant is going to be hassling you non-stop. Once you've told them that you'll give them a speedy refund, they're going to make plans for the money based on that. So don't promise it. Make them arrange their finances around a reasonable timeline rather than you arranging your schedule around their finances. There's a reason that the law gives you up to 30 days. Lawmakers don't think it's reasonable for you to have to immediately cut a check, so you shouldn't either.

And this gets us to the most important part: there is NO guarantee that the tenant is getting their deposit back in the first place. You should NEVER tell the tenant that they'll be getting a check on ANY date. What you should tell them is that you will "process" the security deposit in a certain time frame. Processing it could mean a refund, or it could mean that they lose their entire deposit and still owe you even more money. Or it could mean a partial refund. It all depends on what the condition of the property is and what they owe you. You don't ever want to give the tenant the impression that getting their deposit back in full (or even in part) is a foregone conclusion. They need to always be under the impression that getting their deposit back is entirely dependent upon them returning the property to you in the same or better condition than they got it, serving out the full term of their lease, and owing you no rent, late fees, or other amounts.

Security deposits are some of the biggest problem areas for do-it-yourself landlords. So if you don't want to deal with these issues, give us a call and let us take the worries off your hands!

My tenant died! What do I do?

Todd Ortscheid - Monday, September 4, 2017
There are many difficult circumstances to deal with as a landlord (which is why it's important to have professional management of your property), but this is one of the most difficult. On the one hand, you have sense of empathy for the surviving family, but on the other hand, this property is a business for you, and you have to treat it like a business. So how should you go about handling it when a tenant passes away?

Hopefully it isn't something that is sudden and you're aware that it could be coming on the horizon. This is frequently the case with elderly tenants going through treatment and they let you know ahead of time what is going on and who you should talk to in their family if anything should happen to them. Unfortunately, even many people in this situation don't let you know, because they aren't eager to discuss their own mortality. And then there are the people who die unexpectedly. So you have to be prepared on how to handle it if you are notified of a sudden death after the fact. You won't always have advance warning.

Usually the way you find out is when the rent doesn't get paid. You make a phone call, send an email, and send a letter, and then you get a phone call from a relative who breaks the news to you. Obviously, it is important to be understanding and express your condolences. While this is a business, even businesses shouldn't be heartless. But after expressing condolences, you do need to get down to business. Carefully ask the family how they intend to handle the deceased person's lease. Many times they'll have someone who wants to move in so that they can spend some time organizing their loved one's possessions and tying up loose ends. When that's the case, it's as simple as writing an amendment that changes the name on the lease to the family member's.

If they do not have anyone wanting to take over the lease, though, it becomes more complicated. They're probably going to want time to put everything in order, but again, this is a business, so you can't simply allow them to take their sweet time to move the tenant's belongings out of the property. Carefully explain to them that you'd be happy to give them all the time they need (within reason) if they pay the rent. If they do not want to pay the rent, though, then give them a reasonable deadline for when to have the deceased's belongings out of the property. I would recommend something between 7-14 days. This is a reasonable period of time so that you don't seem heartless and unreasonable, but also expeditious enough so that you aren't being significantly harmed financially by the delay.

Keep in mind that you'll be entitled to keep the security deposit since the lease isn't being served out for its full term, so that will help with the financial loss of the rent if the property is in good condition.

This is a sensitive situation, so you want to treat it as such. But you also need to be somewhat firm because this is a business and not a charity. Your financial interests still matter, so don't allow yourself to be pressured into being too accommodating, but also don't be cruel to people who are going through a difficult loss.

Finally, and unfortunately, there are times when the tenant's survivors simply don't care about your situation and are in no hurry to remove the deceased's belongings. When they simply refuse to cooperate, you'll have no choice but file an eviction. The eviction would be filed against the deceased tenant "and all others"or "et al." This will ensure that the survivors who may be occupying the property are included in any judgment that gives you possession of the property. While no one wants to take a family dealing with a loss to court, sometimes they give you no choice.

If you'd like to hire a company that is used to dealing with these sorts of uncomfortable tenant situations so that you don't have to, please give us a call!

Leaving Belongings in a Rental Property

Todd Ortscheid - Thursday, August 31, 2017
Sometimes a landlord is expecting that he'll only be renting his property out for a year or two and doesn't want to move all of his personal property out, or perhaps he just doesn't have storage space elsewhere, and the basement on his rental property is a good place to keep it. Is this a good idea? NO!

This creates a whole lot of problems:

1. You have to remember to specifically designate this area, whether it's a room, the basement, the attic, etc. as an area that is not included in the lease, otherwise the tenant is guaranteed access to it, even if you lock it. When a tenants signs a lease to that property, he's getting the right to possession of the entire property during the term of that agreement unless it specifically says otherwise.

2. You have to keep a very specific inventory just in case anything turns up missing. Let's be honest, putting a padlock on a door isn't very secure. If the tenant wants to get into that attic, he's going to do so. And then if your $1,000 in electronics is missing when the tenant moves out, unless you have a very detailed inventory list that the tenant signed off on at move-in, then it will be impossible to hold the tenant accountable.

3. Even if you do get a detailed inventory list and a lease that designates a private area, you're still left with trying to enforce it if the tenant steals something. Police will tell you that recovering stolen property is incredibly difficult. The tenant will claim that he didn't take anything, and the district attorney is unlikely to want to take up a case over your $1,000 in lost property. You'll probably be left to go to civil court. If you use an attorney (which is always recommended), then it will probably cost you more in attorneys' fees than the value of the last property. Sure, you may get awarded the attorneys' fees in the judgment, but then comes the next step: trying to collect on the judgment. You'll probably need to get an attorney to handle this for you also, or you'll need to turn it over to a judgment collection firm, and they will likely keep between 35-50% of what they're able to collect on your judgment.

In short, it's just not worth it. You're better off, by far, just paying for some storage space and leaving the rental property completely vacant for the new tenant. This is what we require of the properties we managed, and it's advisable for all landlords, whether they use a management company or not.

Is it too late to collect what I'm owed?

Todd Ortscheid - Monday, August 28, 2017
Sometimes we take on a new client who had a bad experience with a previous tenant who left the property owing money for either rent or repairs, and wondering whether it's still possible to go after that money.

Generally, as long as too much time hasn't passed, and you have documentation of what was owed, you can still go to court to try to collect what you're owed. There are two things you need to consider:

1. How much time has passed? You will need to file your case against the tenant in court before the statute of limitations for contract disputes has passed. In Georgia, for written contracts, this is six years. We won't even discuss verbal contracts, because they're pretty much useless for all intents and purposes in real estate matters. So, if it's been less than six years from when the tenant incurred the charges that you're owed, you should be good to go on this item. If it's been longer than that, then you're probably out of luck, but can always consult with an attorney to see if there might be some sort of special circumstances that would apply.

2. Assuming you're within the statute of limitations, the next element is evidence. As the plaintiff, the burden of proof will be on you to show that the tenant owes you the money. Depending on what exactly the tenant owes for, that evidence could be different things. If he owes you rent or late fees, you would probably need to present a copy of the lease and your rent ledger to the judge at trial. If the tenant claims that he made payment, he would need to show receipts, bank records, or some other form of evidence to refute your ledger. If you don't have a copy of the lease and a detailed ledger, though, you're pretty much out of luck trying to collect rent. For repairs, you'll need to have evidence of what the condition of the property was on move-in, and what the condition was on move-out. This could be as simple as a signed form that both you and the tenant signed on move-in and move-out, or it could be more detailed, such as date stamped photos or videos. The judge will probably also want to see receipts, invoices, or some other form of proof showing that you actually did incur the expenses for the repairs.

If you have all of that, you'll probably be filing in magistrate court, as the balance is likely to be under $15k. If your balance exceeds that amount, you'll need to file in superior court, which means you'll need to hire a lawyer. In magistrate court, you can represent yourself, although we would always recommend seeking out the help of an attorney if the money you're owed is significant.

Better yet, hire us and we can take care of this all for you with our in-house experts and our attorneys we always have on retainer! Give us a call.

Using Security Deposit for the Rent

Todd Ortscheid - Monday, August 21, 2017
Your tenant is either behind on their rent, or their coming up on their last month of their lease, and they want to use their security deposit to cover it. There’s only one acceptable answer to this request: NO!

Let’s look at each situation individually. The tenant is late on the rent, and they want to use their deposit to cover all or a portion of it. This is a horrible idea for the landlord. You have nothing to gain from this. You can already see that the tenant is in financial trouble because of his request, so if you allowed him to now use his deposit to cover the rent, it’s unlikely to completely resolve his financial difficulties, so he’ll just fall behind again next month or the month after, and now you don’t have any security deposit left to cover the court costs and attorneys’ fees to get him evicted. Your generous nature has now put you in a horrible situation.

Second situation, the tenant wants to use his deposit to cover the last month’s rent. Horrible idea for you as the landlord. If you allow this, then you now have no money to cover any damage that the tenant may cause to the property. Or worse, what if the tenant doesn’t actually vacate like he’s supposed to at the end of the lease? Now you’ve used his deposit to cover the rent, and you’re stuck filing an eviction to get rid of him because he won’t leave with no money to cover the costs.

The security deposit is for one purpose and one purpose only: the cover any costs that the tenant owes after vacating the property at the end of the lease. That’s it. It should never be used for anything else. Any smart landlord should have a zero tolerance policy on this point.

Of course, if you hire us to manage your property, the security deposit will be held in our trust account and we can worry about all of this for you. Give us a call!

Hiring the Cheapest Management Company

Todd Ortscheid - Saturday, August 19, 2017
You're probably looking for a management company, otherwise you probably wouldn't be reading this blog. So what should you do? Should you just select the company with the cheapest monthly management fee? Probably not, for several reasons.

First, you should take note that the monthly management fee, which can be either a flat rate or a percentage of the rent, is only a part of what you'll be paying for any management company's services. Depending on which company you hire, you could also be paying setup fees, marketing fees, mileage, leasing fees, renewal fees, maintenance fees, etc. Some companies even try to hide these fees from you by burying them in the fine print scattered all over the contract. So if pricing is important to you, it's necessary to look at the full picture instead of just the management fee. You'll likely find that a company with a bargain basement management fee has much higher costs for their other fees. This is frequently the case with companies that have a "flat rate" monthly management fee. We see this from some of the franchise operations and the bigger national companies, mostly. They lure you in the door with a $79 flat rate monthly management fee, for example, but then they gouge you with other fees that companies like ours aren't charging, such as setup fees (in other words, you pay them up front before they've even done any work). It may be smart marketing, but it's also a bit disingenuous, to put it kindly.

But more importantly, is price really the most important factor when you're talking about someone managing what is probably your most expensive investment asset? Would you hire a mutual fund manager who only charged a 1% fee, but who only earned you 2% a year, instead of hiring someone who charged a 2% fee but who earned you 10% a year? Obviously the latter is the better option, even though he charges double for his services. What you want is expertise. That's true when you're hiring someone to manage any of your investments, including real estate. Especially real estate, in fact. It's important to examine many facets of the management company you're considering. How long have they been managing property? Do they specialize in property management, or is it just a small side business to their primary sales business? How many properties do they manage? How many employees do they have to look out for you? Are they doing yearly inspections of your property, or do they only see it at move-in and move-out? What sort of tenant screening process do they use? The list goes on and on. It's important to analyze the total picture of the management company and not just the price. You may find that the least expensive company offers you the worst value.

Give us a call and we'll be happy to discuss not only our pricing, but also our extensive experience and our full service management product.

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